When I was a toddler, my mom spent time in a hospital in Tampa. It would have been in the summer of 1971 or 72, right around the time of The Baker Act. I don’t know if that had anything to do with her time in the hospital. I know that she tried to harm herself and that she was in the hospital “for several weeks.” My dad usually won’t talk about it, but he did tell me he took me to see her. It would’ve been a two-hour drive from where we live. I have a vague memory of screaming in protest, but I’d have been three or four. So I might be wrong.
As teenager I used to stay up late to watch old movies. One night, I watched The Snake Pit with Olivia de Havilland. That movie scared the hell out of me. Then around the same time, I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And then Gaslight, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie (1950 version). I tried to watch Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but turned it off in horror. Being thought of as “crazy” seemed so possible to me. I was at that time used to being asked, “Why would you think that?” and “I’m sure it’s not what you think.”
Later, I read The Bell Jar. It was when I read that novel my mom talked to me about her own experience with electroconvolsive therapy. Her experience wasn’t like Plath’s, but I’ve never forgotten our conversation.
And we all know people with mental health issues. (I have an entire rant about our society’s handling of mental health.)
All this to say that when one is writing about mental health and the facilities in which people needing help find themselves, one should take care. Seems obvious! But then one actually sits down to write such a story…
I have written several stories dealing with mental illness. In one as yet unpublished story, the main character receives electroconvulsive therapy. The story I’m currently working on, The Fairy Tale Asylum, takes place, well as you might guess, in an asylum. The inhabitants in the asylum are not crazy. They might be depressed, delusional, dangerous, ill-equipped to manage the situations they find themselves in, rebellious, misunderstood, or unwanted by people who should want them, but not crazy. The powers in their lives decided, for good or ill, to remove them from the public sphere, and now there are consequences.
Also, because it’s written by me, plenty of impossible things make an appearance. Birds kidnapping children? Check. A bag of magical items? Check. A secret cemetery? Check. Are the inmates real of characters or from fairy tales? Who knows?
I was posting the story in parts here, but I decided to simplify my life. A few folks have signed up to receive the story in weekly tiny letters. You can join them if you like (and I’ll send you the previous chapters to cath you up): https://tinyletter.com/mapelba
And of course, our mental well-being isn’t a fairy tale. If you need it, here are resources to help:
A 24/7 Helpline
Talk to Someone: 1-800-273-8255